People often wonder how to encourage more women and girls, youth, and other marginalized groups to enter politics. In a recent article, local professor of political science Amanda Bittner correctly points out that there are barriers for women entering politics that just don’t exist for men.
I would add that the way gender parity is talked about adds another layer of silencing and sexism that keeps women and girls and other underrepresented groups out of politics.
Though the recently elected provincial Liberal leader Dwight Ball has promised to improve gender equality in government, the idea of creating policies that deliberately diversify our government, at all levels, is often dismissed as unfair or as a perversion of our political processes.
Unqualified women more terrifying than the status quo
Since there were seven women elected for the Liberals in the province, and the cabinet will likely include 12 ministers, gender parity in cabinet would mean appointing almost all of the elected female Liberals (six out of seven, for an even 50 percent gender parity).
At a public forum hosted by Memorial’s Department of Political Science last week, two men argued that appointing all, or almost all, of the elected female Liberals to cabinet would be absurd. They argued it would be hazardous to appoint almost all of the elected female Liberals because this would mean appointing them based on their gender, not on their merit. They argued that putting ‘inexperienced’ or ‘unqualified’ women in leadership positions would result in a weaker cabinet.
However, the general consensus at the event was also that politics is so biased and crooked that political appointments are rarely about merit and qualifications. In one single breath, it was argued that many elected women are unqualified to be cabinet ministers and that quality and merit is not how people get elected or appointed to politics.
If our political system favoured high-quality politicians, we probably wouldn’t have scandals like the three NL MHAs (two of them cabinet ministers) who served jail time for stealing taxpayer money in the early 2000s. We wouldn’t have N.L. federal Liberal MP Gudie Hutchings, whose historic relationship with the Indigenous people in Southern Labrador involves her company building a fishing lodge on unceded Inuit land in the 1990s, despite sustained protest by the local Indigenous community. We wouldn’t have interns on Parliament Hill being sexually assaulted by political officials. And finally, while it’s not a local example, there is the insanity of Rob Ford.
These and other examples should cast extremely serious doubt on how our political systems function. But instead, when it comes to appointing a gender-equal cabinet, many people seem to think that appointing an inexperienced or unqualified woman would be a total disaster.
Let me repeat: Some people argue that unqualified or inexperienced women in government would be more disastrous than our current political landscape, which is clearly full of sexism and corruption.
Women and Girls: You are not a hazard
As well as speaking about women and girls and other groups who are underrepresented in politics, I would like to speak to them (us):
You might hear some people make the argument that NL can’t, or shouldn’t, have gender parity in cabinet because that would mean appointing too may ‘inexperienced’ or ‘unqualified’ women.
I want you to know that this argument is weak, cheap, and not true. It is hard to ignore because nice people make this argument, smart people make it, and even people who claim to care about gender equality make it. But it is a bad argument. Please don’t believe it.
You are not too ‘inexperienced’.
You are not ‘unqualified’.
You are not too young.
You are not a token.
You do not ‘just care about women’s issues’.
If you make a mistake, it is not because you are a girl or woman.
Yes, you are a threat the status quo of patriarchal government.
But you are not a hazard to democracy.
Get in touch with Equal Voice NL for support and resources about women in politics.